Maf (short for Mafia Honey), a Maltese Bichon born in Scotland, gives us insights into his privileged life—and discourses on everything from politics to psychiatry to contemporary art—as he passes as a gift from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe.
Maf is brought over to Los Angeles by a Mrs. Gurdin, who turns out to be the mother of Natalie Wood (née Natasha Gurdin). While Maf starts his new life in the plush surroundings of Sherman Oaks, he quickly moves on to Sinatra and then to Marilyn Monroe. Maf’s cuteness, affability and portability make him an ideal companion for Marilyn but also provide the means for him to overhear intimate conversations that she has with a number of her famous friends. O’Hagan gives us a sharp picture of American cultural life in the early 1960s, where celebrities parade through parties, get-togethers and soirées that Marilyn attends. Making appearances in this novel—and sometimes participating in rather bitchy (no pun intended) conversations—are Alfred Kazin, Lillian Hellman, Carson McCullers, Angie Dickinson, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Edmund Wilson, Dwight MacDonald, Noel Annan, Frank O’Hara, Irving Howe, Lee Strasberg and a host of others. Maf absorbs (and retells) it all with canine verve and abandon, offering his own considerable insights into the mix as well. For example, he compares Marilyn’s admiration of her own reflection to “the central panel of Hans Memling’s remarkable triptych, Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation, in which Vanity is pictured with her little white lapdog, a model of companionship.” Maf is not only an intellectual, but he persuades us that his owner Marilyn is as well, for she spends much of her time reading books like The Brothers Karamazov and is eager to find academics with whom to discuss this classic. We also get glimpses into Marilyn’s insecurity and dejection about not having a father, for Maf recounts some of her psychiatric sessions with Marianne Kris, wife of psychoanalyst/art historian Ernst Kris.
An unusual, quirky and fun read.